Considerable public and scholarly interest has recently been aroused by a scrapbook of memorabilia that documents a fascinating and significant cultural phenomenon.
In the closing years of the 19th century, “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” was the greatest show on earth. Millions of people from kings to coal miners were entertained by William F. Cody’s show-business extravaganza featuring cowboys, Cossacks, and Native Americans. The show introduced the legend of the Wild West to the world and created images of the frontier that were later adopted by Hollywood and contributed to perceptions of America that still resonate.
The scrapbook was put together by the Hipkins family of London, personal friends of Buffalo Bill Cody himself. It consists of hundreds of photographs, news cuttings, magazines, letters and other documents produced by or about the Wild West Show during its British tours of 1887, 1892 and 1903. This collection of what was once described as “odds and ends” tells a multi-layered story. History and the creation of history, anthropology, American Studies, race, imperialism and the rise of mass entertainment are just some of the themes covered by this scrapbook in an unusual and visually evocative fashion.
The collection is rare to the point where it is possibly a unique survival in the UK. Individual documents about the Show are listed in the collections of other institutions, but nothing on this scale that tells the story of “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” in Britain. Until recently, the scrapbook had never been used for the purpose of research. It is in effect a hidden treasure of the John Rylands Library.
Click here to view a selection of images from the Scrapbook on Luna, the Library’s image database.
Dr Gareth Lloyd